"The Silly Age": Pavel Giroud, Contemporary Cuban filmmaker By Dominique Martinez
As Fidel Castro’s absence from his eightieth birthday celebration fueled rumors about the seriousness of his condition, cinema-mad Cubans still turned up in droves to savor ten days worth of filmic distractions during the 28th festival of Latin American cinema in Havana. One of the Cuban films in competition, The Silly Age (La Edad de la Peseta — (recipient of the Glauber Rocha prize) has particularly touched those audiences, given its nostalgic harking back to the revolutionary era.
For his debut feature, 34-year-old Cuban director Pavel Giroud — with two notable shorts under his belt, Todo por ella and one of the stories in the portmanteau film Tres veces dos — filmed a script by Arturo Infante, director of Gozar, Comer, Partir, which took the Best Short prize.
Havana, 1958. Alice and her 10-year-old son Samuel return to live in the house of her mother, at first sight a cantankerous old photographer/artist with strange religious beliefs, and in any case with little inclination for intimacy. Samuel is not quite an adolescent: He is at “the age of the peseta”. Once he stops wetting the bed during his nightmares and discovers desire, his mother starts going out with “a good man”, one who loves her and can guarantee a future for them — away from Cuba. The revolution rumbles on, promising a radical change in social and economic norms; therefore, Samuel is going to leave. Now that he has gotten close to his grandmother, their bond will be sustained by a symbolic ring that allows conversations with the dead.
To leave behind one’s country and family in the hope of a better future… Since the Cuban revolution in 1958 and the beginning of the American embargo in 1960 (it’s a startling coincidence that on December 15, the last day of the festival, the Hotel Nacional, where festival guests were staying, welcomed representatives from the U.S. Congress, who had come to renegotiate the terms of the embargo with the Castro government), the phenomena of exodus and deracination have been ever-present in the Cuban mind. It’s the suffering caused by the rupture of the family unit that The Silly Age carefully unravels. In the guise of a postcard from another era, Giroud elegantly dodges censorship and addresses a sacred subject: the revolution, but at what cost?
Set nearly a half century ago, the film looks nostalgic, yet it also suggests the possibility of a double reading, particularly regarding the wounds that still afflict Cuban society. Giroud contrasts polished images of those pre-revolutionary “golden years” with black—and-white archival footage of Castro leading the guerillas to the Sierra Maestra. These images of reality which open the film and then appear at regular intervals give the narrative its rhythm. In an interview, Giroud explains his intention:
“Rather than show the reality we live each day, I wanted to return to the genesis of this trauma, to try to explain how this situation arose. The possibility of censorship encouraged me to use metaphor, to veer towards poetry. I did not want it to be a pamphlet, a cinema which condemns, but on the contrary something less obvious, a story capable of producing emotions through the pacing, the rhythm, and the structure of the narrative.”
The Silly Age is a Spanish/Cuban/Venezuelan co-production, proof that the Castro-Chavez axis includes the film industry. In addition, the soundtrack’s remarkable richness is due to Cuban pianist and composer Ulises Hernandez, and the superb cinematography comes courtesy of Luis Najmias Jr.